All the Right Ways to Protect Kids’ Personal Information at School and Beyond

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A new school year means filling out paperwork like registration forms, health forms, and emergency contact forms, to name a few.

But many school forms require personal and sensitive information that, in the wrong hands, could be used to commit fraud in a child’s name.

After all, and as we’ve long pointed out, a criminal can use a child’s Social Security number to get government benefits, open bank and credit card accounts, or rent a place to live.

Most parents don’t expect their child to have a credit file, and rarely order or monitor a child’s credit report.

Identity thieves steal kids’ Social Security numbers because their credit is generally untarnished. It’s not until years later — when they apply for a store credit card, a college loan, or a job — that they find out their credit has been destroyed.

Understanding FERPA

But did you know that the federal Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) protects the privacy of student records and gives parents of school-age children the right to opt out of sharing contact information with third parties?

The federal law also encourages parents to ask their child’s school about its directory information policy, learn about privacy policies of sports or music activities that are not school-sponsored, and find out what to do if their child’s school experiences a data breach.

If you’re a parent with a child who’s enrolled in school, the Federal Trade Commission has released a helpful list of strategies, recommending that you:

  • Find out who has access to your child’s personal information, and verify that the records are kept in a secure location.
  • Pay attention to materials sent home with your child, through the mail or by email, that ask for personal information. Look for terms like personally identifiable information, directory information, and opt-out. Before you reveal any personal information about your child, find out how it will be used, whether it will be shared, and with whom.
  • Ask your child’s school about its directory information policy. Student directory information can include your child’s name, address, date of birth, telephone number, email address, and photo. FERPA requires schools to notify parents and guardians about their school directory policy, and give you the right to opt-out of the release of directory information to third parties. It’s best to put your request in writing and keep a copy for your files. If you don’t opt-out, directory information may be available not only to the people in your child’s class and school, but also to the general public.
  • Consider programs that take place at the school but aren’t sponsored by the school. Your child may participate in programs, like sports and music activities, that aren’t formally sponsored by the school. These programs may have websites where children are named and pictured. Read the privacy policies of these organizations, and make sure you understand how your child’s information will be used and shared.
  • Take action if your child’s school experiences a data breach. Contact the school to learn more. Talk with teachers, staff, or administrators about the incident and their practices. Keep a written record of your conversations. Write a letter to the appropriate administrator, and to the school board, if necessary.

Just Say NO!

Beyond the privacy benefits under FERPA,  do parents actually have to give their child’s Social Security number to enroll him or her in a public school?

The answer is “no” – thanks to a federal law stating that students are not required to provide their Social Security numbers to schools in order to prove citizenship. In other words, if it’s not a requirement to prove citizenship, it’s not a requirement for any parent. After all, the fewer people that have access to such highly sensitive personal information, the better.

If you are at all concerned with your student’s credit and think his or her identity has been stolen or used for any fraud, call consumer reporting companies to place a free 90-day fraud alert on your child’s credit reports. This will stop someone from opening a new account in the child’s name. The companies include Equifax (1-800-525-6285); Experian (1-888-397-3742); and Trans-Union (1-800-680-7289).

 

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Elaine Rigoli

Elaine Rigoli is PRIVATE WiFi's manager of digital content strategy.

1 Response

  1. October 30, 2012

    […] crimes, it’s important for adults to limit what types of personal information is shared in schools, online, and via social […]